Open Access and monographs

Transitioning to Open Access with short-form academic writing (journal articles and conference proceedings) is relatively easy compared to long-form academic writing like monographs. Some common concerns about Open Access monograph publishing are addressed below.


Does Open Access for monographs mean no more printed books?

Definitely not. In fact the end of the printed monograph is most likely to come about if we carry on with the current ‘pay-to-read’ model.

The 2017 Jubb report describes how the retail sales of academic books in the UK has collapsed over the last decade. Between 2005 and 2014 the average sales-per-title fell from 100 to 60, which is a decrease of 40% over just 9 years (Table 1, p.132).

This is known as the ‘monograph crisis’ and it is not contained to the UK, as shown in the experience of the University of Michigan Press:

Its academic monograph division in 2004-5 generated more than $3.3 million in revenue on its own but made barely half that — $1.7 million — this past fiscal year, which ended in June [2016].

Of course financial sustainability is an important aim for any enterprise, but in the ‘pay-to-read’ model the raw reality of the monograph crisis is that fewer sales means fewer readers.

In comparison, online Open Access monographs can gain huge and global readership. For example, in 2018 UCL Press reported that

UCL Press’s Open Access monographs are downloaded free-of-charge approximately 12,500 times per title.

Similarly, the Open Book Publishers (an academic-led publisher) received an average of almost 400 visits per title per month over all of 2015, whilst Springer reported that over four years their Open Access books had over five times the cumulative chapter downloads compared to their non-Open Access online books (page 7, Chart 1).

But a vitally important point here is that this is not an either/or choice as print and Open Access online monographs can complement each other to serve different needs and different readers. The Open Access online version can be accessed quickly and easily from anywhere with Internet access by readers who need or prefer free online reading, whilst the print version can be bought by readers who prefer (and have the means to buy) a physical copy.

UCL Press are an example of a publisher who publish their monographs Open Access online and also sell print versions as well. They are even able to sell their print versions at relatively low prices because of their business model (the Open Access Fees described below cover the publishing costs so prices for print need only cover the printing and distribution costs).

Indeed, the coexistence of print and online is backed up by research that describes how print sales are not affected, either negatively or positively, by online Open Access.

Without print sales how could publishers afford to publish monographs?

Publishing is not cost free and can never be cost free. The change that Open Access makes is moving from a ‘pay-to-read’ model – where the reader must buy access to a book – to a ‘pay-to-publish’ model where an Open Access Fee (or Book Processing Charge) is paid by the author, their institution, or their research funder.

How much it actually costs to produce and publish a monograph is hotly disputed, but the principle of an Open Access Fee is that those costs – for editorial, production, marketing, etc – are paid up front and so do not need to recouped from the reader.

Although there is a wide variety in practice (see p.13 of this Universities UK report) the average Open Access Fee for a monograph is usually reported as £9,500, as per the Wellcome Trust in 2013:

The fee for existing open access options – ensuring all published material is converted to XML, and then made available in html and PDF – for books currently averages around £9,500, and we anticipate the average cost to make a book chapter open access will be £1,800

The obvious question is who is going to pay the Open Access Fee. Research funders seem to have accepted that Open Access Fees for any type of publication are now part and parcel of funding research projects and, as noted elsewhere, some major research funders (Wellcome Trust, Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the EU’s Framework Programme 7) are already willing to pay Open Access Fees for monographs.

Aren’t Open Access publications of lower quality?

In the Gold Open Access model the freely available online text is exactly the same text as the print version. In some cases it is literally the same file that is used for both the print version and the Open Access version.

Also, Open Access publishing is a mainstream activity of prestigious scholarly publishers, as reported by Universities UK (p.5):

Most commercial and university presses offer OA options, with publishers typically charging an author-facing publishing charge.

This is backed up by the work of the Australian Open Access Strategy Group who list the Open Access monograph publishing policies of some commercial and university presses (including Palgrave, Brill, Springer, Cambridge University Press, and Manchester University Press). Meanwhile, other reputable publishers (e.g. Oxford University Press) publish Open Access monographs but do not state standard fees.

All this means that Open Access monographs in the Gold route to Open Access does not mean researchers having to compromise on quality or reputation. Also, if funders begin to mandate that monographs be Open Access (as they are widely expected to do) then it is likely that most if not all commercial and university presses will offer Open Access publishing for monographs.

Does Open Access fix the monograph crisis?

We don’t know yet. Changing from a ‘pay-to-read’ model to a ‘pay-to-publish’ model may well address the access and readership challenges that monographs currently face, but the financial model is far from clearly established.

A UK Serials Group article discusses the cost of making UK monographs Open Access and how different models (not all Gold Open Access) might achieve it. One of the authors, Martin Eve – a notable figure in the debate about Open Access monographs – says elsewhere that Open Access monographs through the Gold route could be achieved in the UK by top-slicing the Open Access Fees from existing research funds:

there is…enough money allocated through QR, AHRC, and EHRC budgets to achieve the REF mandate (at a market-average level), were there the political will and incentive to spend ~1% of those budgets in this way

However, as Eve and others note, one risk in using only the Gold Open Access model for monographs is that an inequality of access (who can afford to pay to read in the ‘pay-to-read’ model) is exchanged for an inequality of authorship (who can afford to publish in the ‘pay-to-publish’ model).

The likelihood is that there will not be one model for Open Access monographs, but several coexisting models. This is where the significance of the researcher funders comes in (as discussed previously) and hopefully their expected mandate on Open Access for monographs will address the issues of readership created by the ‘pay-to-read’ model (i.e. the monograph crisis) without creating other equally significant problems elsewhere.

Links and examples

If you would like to read a recent and detailed report on Open Access monographs in the UK please see the 2018 report by Universities UK: Open Access Monographs

If you would like to see (and read for free!) examples of Open Access academic monographs, please visit:

  • UCL Press (a university press that charges Open Access Fees and also sell print versions of their monographs)
  • Open Book Publishers (an academic-led press that does not charge Open Access fees – see here for their funding model)
  • OAPEN (a search engine for finding Open Access monographs from a number of different publishers)

Header image credit
Oliver, P. (no date) Lontars. Palm leaf books. Bali, Indonesia. Available at https://radar.brookes.ac.uk/radar/items/5bc2c1ac-e873-4645-94f8-71fcaf97fd18/1/ (Accessed 25th October 2018)